ALBANY — The Dougherty County School System graduated 785 seniors Saturday. It marked the first time in recent memory Albany High graduates were not with their peers, having been closed last year.

The daylong event began at 9 a.m. with Monroe High School’s class of 2018. Staggered ceremonies were conducted three hours apart to accommodate large crowds. Monroe high graduated 225 students, Dougherty High followed with 255 and Westover High closed out the day with 305 graduates.

Getting in and out of the Civic Center parking lots was a monumental take. Leaving The Herald for Westover’s 3 p.m. commencement took 15 minutes just to get across Oglethorpe Boulevard.

But that did not stop the people from coming. Practically every seat in the civic center was filled with parents, grandparents, family and friends cheering for “their” graduate, who was taking that first step into the real world.

And anticipating that first step was hard for some to digest.

“I’m excited and nervous all at the same time,” Monroe Valedictorian Anthony Eafford said just before leading the Monroe processional. “But I’ve considered the future and want to go to the University of Georgia then work on a law degree at Mercer Law School.”

Monroe Salutatorian Sidney Reid was a little more laid back than Eafford.

“Sure, I’m a little bit nervous,” Reid said. “But I’ve decided just to take things as they come. As far as my future is concerned, I want to go to FAMU and major in Mechanical Engineering.”

Still with the obvious absence of Albany High, one other factor added to a different graduation vibe.

Twenty-one DCSS seniors had already earned post-secondary degrees, diplomas and certificates from Albany State University and Albany Technical College while still high school seniors. When means they held post-secondary degrees before receiving their high school diplomas.

It’s the district’s largest number yet of dual-enrolled students who have completed degree programs. The district currently has more than 550 students who are dual-enrolled, taking both college and high school courses at the same time.

“These students should be commended for their hard work and dedication,” DCSS Superintendent Kenneth Dyer said.

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